As we say goodbye and good riddance to 2020, the new year gleams like a yellow brick road to better days.
But the early going may prove steep because of a pandemic-depressed economy, with heavy personal debt and high unemployment. This is why the most pragmatic New Year’s resolutions this year are those that save money.
You can save between $8 to $10 every week, for example, or nearly $500 a year, by swearing off non-alcohol beer. No matter what inspired you to buy it in the first place (calories, temperance, health), it tastes nothing like beer and a lot like mouthwash that does nothing to cure bad breath. I’ve tried them all, from the factory beer brands to the fancy imports, and you’re better off with ginger ale, cola, root beer, Kool-Aid, orange juice, or rainwater.
Next, it is time, finally, to open the trap door on pajamas. Who knew that we’ve been frittering away an average of $40 a year on an article of clothing that is not only unneeded but is bad for our health? I became aware during an unseasonably cold camping trip to the Boundary Waters when a fellow camper, an Army veteran who had bivouacked in Germany in the winter, said my teeth would stop chattering if I “went commando” (naked) in the sleeping bag in order to circulate my body heat more efficiently. He was right, and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine seconded his advice: “Wearing pajamas can actually alter your body’s natural temperature and negatively impact your sleep cycle … (which) can cause anxiety, overeating, and weight gain.”
Not long after my brother Charlie graduated from pharmacy school, he warned me and my brothers not to buy supplemental vitamins, since we’d be literally flushing our hard-earned wages down the toilet. He put it in less delicate terms. Any doubts I may have had about Charlie’s advice were soundly erased by researchers at Johns Hopkins University this past year, when they determined that multivitamins don't cut the risk for heart disease, cancer, cognitive decline, or premature death, while Vitamin E and beta-carotene supplements actually cause harm. So guard your health by boycotting vitamins and using the average $129 annual savings to buy fresh grapes, apples, and real beer.
Save another $400 this year by avoiding, like the plague, home warranties, those annual policies that promise to replace or repair anything broken. After the Realtor advised us to purchase one for the 12-year-old house we were looking at, I filed a claim for a washing machine that stopped working three months after we moved in. I agreed on the phone to pay the $50 for a service call, after which the repair person approved by the home-warranty company came out, said we needed a new machine, but listed the problem as a “pre-existing condition,” explaining that it was on its way to breaking down before we showed up. Duh! What isn’t headed toward breakdown or obsolescence as soon as it leaves the factory? Nonetheless, the diagnosis led to a denial of my claim — while also exposing the colossal scam central to the home-warranty industry.
Have you ever noticed that the more you use lip balms, such as Chapstick or Bert’s Bees, the more you seem to need them? That’s because as the film from lip balm evaporates, it dries out our lips even more, according to Dr. Leah Jacob, an assistant professor of dermatology at Tulane University. "It starts a vicious cycle," said Jacob, and is as good a reason as any to break the $5-per-month habit. My own habit, of course, was more like $20 a month since I lose the tiny sticks all the time.
Finally, never ever buy a timeshare. Don’t get bamboozled out of $22,180, which is the average cost for, essentially, a one- or two-week vacation at the same time and same place every single year. Forbes (in September 2014) and just about every American economist you care to ask says they’re lousy investments, are too hard to rent or sell, rob you of your freedom, and are invariably freighted with additional secret fees in the small print, including property taxes, maintenance fees, and utility charges. Admittedly, my wife and I once scored a free cab ride to our Cabo hotel by agreeing to sit for a timeshare high-pressure sales pitch. But it ultimately required a threat of violence by Marianne, swinging a heavy plastic shopping bag full of brochures as a weapon, for us to leave without signing.
No need to thank me for the considerable savings you will enjoy if you make these resolutions. You might, however, use a tiny portion of the windfall for a newspaper subscription, an investment in education which is never a waste.
Former Hayward resident David McGrath taught high school English for 19 years before becoming a professor at the College of DuPage in Illinois. He contributes frequently to the News Tribune Opinion page and is author of "South Siders." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.